With a cabinet revolt the balance could be moving to Article 50 being extended

February 22nd, 2019

In exactly five weeks time at 11pm GMT the UK is due to leave the EU following the procedure laid down in Article 50. With time running out and the threat of a no-deal getting closer three cabinet ministers have taken it into their hands to break all notions of cabinet government and write a piece for the Daily Mail.

Their action appears to be designed to blunt the plans of the Toey Brexit group the ERG who are using their power and the parliamentary impasse to stop a deal being agreed thus achieving their objective.

The big fight that the Clarke, Rudd Gauke are doing is to make extending the Article 50 timescale their objective.

This all sets things for the next next round of crucial vote in the Commons.

Such is TMay’s weakness that there is little that she can do to keep ministers in line. She, of course, has been absolutely determined to meet the March 29th deadline.

The betting markets rate a no deal Brexit next month at 20%.

Mike Smithson


Labour needs a better response than the TIGers should resign and fight by-elections

February 22nd, 2019

One of the problems for Labour in pursuing its TIGers should quit seats and fight by-elections argument is that there’s a whole host of examples of switchers to them from the Tories and others where the MP involved has not done this and there were no calls from Labour that they should.

There is a case, the Preston by-election but you have to go back 90 years to 1929.

The idea that there is some sort of convention about this is without foundation as the Seth Thévoz Tweet above shows.

This week’ split and the threat of more, possibly, to come, has been a massive challenge to Corbyn and his close team. He’s not been helped by the responses of his elected deputy, Tom Watson, who has a realisation of the damage this is doing to the party.

Whether switching MPs should resign their seats is another matter. Looking back at where this has been done the objective to keep the media focus on the issues involved as with Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless in 2014.

As a lover of by-election then the more reasons to have them the better.

Mike Smithson


Listen to the PB / Polling Matters experts dissect the surveys on The Independent Group in the latest Podcast

February 22nd, 2019

The Polling Matters podcast returns, with Keiran Pedley (now of Ipsos MORI) and Leo Barasi discussing the latest polling on The Independent Group. Just how popular are they with the public?

Listen to the episode below:

Follow this week’s guests


William Hill make it odds-on that none of the original LAB and CON TIGers will hold their seats

February 21st, 2019

The basic bet is whether any of the founding 11 TIGers are going to be returned as MPs at the next general election.

The names listed are Heidi Allen, Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Joan Ryan, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna and Sarah Wollaston.

I’d reckon that Chuka Umunna and Sarah Wollaston would be in with a fighting chance with, I’d guess. high name recognition in their constituencies. I think Heidi Allen in Cambridgeshire South might be in with a good chance given that her main opponents when she was a CON candidate was the LibDem.

Anna Soubry has a high profile and you cannot write her off.

My reading of the bet is that they could stand in seats other than their current constituency though I’d guess they’d fare better on home turf.

The experience of the switchers to the SDP at GE1983 was that most struggled to hold on but some did. That’s possibly a good guide.

I’ve had a small bet that at least one will be returned.

Mike Smithson


The prospects for The Independent Group

February 21st, 2019

So, is The Independent Group going to break the mould of British politics? The general consensus is that it will be doing well to scrape off the top of the jam. In fact, it seems to me that it is the wrong question.

We are all bewitching ourselves with memories of the SDP. This breakaway is not like that breakaway. First, we need to ask ourselves what the group is trying to achieve. Breaking the mould does not seem particularly high on the agenda.

At present this split looks much more like the breakaway of the Adullamites in 1867, when a centrist group split away in opposition to the main policy of the Liberals at that stage (electoral reform) or like the division of the Liberals in 1916 over personality. TIG’s founders’ aims may be quite different from the Gang of Four.

What are their aims? I’m a firm believer in looking at what people say they want to do. So this is what the Labour defectors said:

“we believe that none of today’s political parties are fit to provide the leadership and direction needed by our country.

Our aim is to pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest, rather than locked in the old politics of the 20th century.”

This is what the Conservative defectors said:

“We believe that there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative Party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.”

Both identify a failure of politics. The Labour defectors’ letter is better, in my view, because it focusses on pursuing policies (things that make a difference to people) rather than reforming politics (which is more of a procedural matter). Whatever, both have identified that they hate something and so they want to change something.

As chance would have it, they could not have chosen a better moment to seek to make a difference in the short term. Parliament is not just hung, the main parties have coalesced into coherent factions that are blocking progress on everything, including the touchstone of the generation, Brexit.

The DUP have shown just how much influence a small grouping can have in such a hung Parliament. If centrists hope to find a method of wrenching the steering wheel in a different direction, TIG might be it.

What do people mean by breaking the mould anyway? If they mean redefining the party system, I agree that TIG’s chances don’t look good. While there are a fair few metropolitan citizens of nowhere, they are thinly spread outside a few areas and outnumbered in most constituencies. Unless they can yoke their cause to another grouping, they look unlikely to break through. There is no sign of that yet.

If, however, by breaking the mould people mean making important changes to major policies in the here and now, their chances are excellent, especially if there are more defections from either or both main parties, as currently looks likely.

This is not 1981, when the government had an overall majority of 40. The current government is a minority government with a majority of minus 11 and a flighty partner offering confidence but not much supply. The government is scrabbling around seeking to create majorities for its policies.  

A disciplined grouping offering substantial numbers of votes will attract the Prime Minister’s attention and potentially obtain substantial concessions.

What of the longer term? To survive and thrive, TIG will need to show that they not just against something – Jew-hating, Brexit, dismal leadership – but that they are for something too.  They are going to need to offend some groups with their own vision, not just oppose the visions of others.

It is, however, entirely possible that the long-term aim is not inevitably to found a new party but rather to refound one or both of the two main parties. The Adullamites were soon reconciled with the Gladstonian Liberals and Lloyd George and Asquith patched up their differences. The Liberal Unionists and the National Liberals both (at a distance of over 40 years) were eventually absorbed by the Conservatives. Third parties are more normally absorbed by one of the original two than survive indefinitely.

If either main party can build a bridge to TIG, they may well choose to walk across that. They would certainly be wise to do so. If in the meantime TIG have managed to re-establish the voice of metropolitan pragmatic centrism in British politics, they should regard that as a profound success.

Alastair Meeks


Corbyn’s no longer the “Next PM” betting favourite as punters evaluate the week’s big developments

February 21st, 2019

Betdata.io chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

Gove now in the number one slot

With LAB so far losing more of its MPs to TIG than CON then the ability of Corbyn to force an election though mounting a confidence vote has declined a notch. More exits mean fewer MPs who take the Labour whip puts the LAB leader in Commons arithmetic terms in a worse position.

I’ve never really seen why Corbyn should be favourite here because if things follow their predicted course then the next PM will be a Tory.

Gove, whose recent big Commons speech, had fellow MPs talking about him once again in leadership terms, has edged up a bit more.

Sajid Javid now at 9% has got a small boost from him stripping Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship. I’m not so sure on this. It made him look like a crowd pleaser – he appeared just too willing to follow the headlines.

Mike Smithson


Corbyn harking back to LAB’s GE2017 vote share is no solution to the party’s current challenges

February 20th, 2019

For many he is seen as the problem

Little noticed in this week’s political turmoil was some new polling from YouGov that had Corbyn dropping to a new low in its well/badly ratings. The trend was in line with all the other leader ratings that we’ve seen the last few weeks that whatever the pollster and whatever the question format Corbyn’s position is on the decline.

The historical record shows that for an opposition party to re-take power the leader has to have a clear ratings margin over the incumbent PM.

The 54% negative number from YouGov was not as bad as the 72% who told Ipsos MORI that they were dissatisfied but it is still the worst it has been with this particular question in this polling series

This coincided with the 8 MPs announcing their departure with their reasons all pointing to the leadership of Corbyn particularly on Brexit and his failure to address the ongoing anti-semitism within the party.

Looking back since the 2017 General Election the factors that seemed to have triggered a decline in Corbyn’s personal position have related to anti-semitism and his ambivalence on Brexit. It was the events in March last year that lead to MPs demonstrating against him outside Parliament that ended his comparative ratings honeymoon.

That Corbyn’s position is secure because of the membership base should give lots of hope to those opposed to LAB.

Labour’s fundamental problem is that it has a leader who is not popular even amongst many of those who voted for the party in 2017 but is almost totally secure in his position.

Mike Smithson


Newport West – the first electoral test for the TIGers?

February 20th, 2019


One thing that we learnt from the launch of the SDP in 1981 is that a new party has to achieve and demonstrate electoral success quickly. Although the Independent group has made great efforts not to be a political party it will achieve success faster if it can show in real elections that both LAB and CON voters and others are more inclined to it than the parties led by Mr Corbyn and Mrs, May.

Back in 1981 I remember the great sense of excitement when the new party fought for its first by-election at Warrington. The candidate was Roy Jenkins a previous LAB home secretary who had served as a European commissioner. The SDP Lost only after achieving a considerable swing against the incumbent Labour Party.

Roy Jenkins himself returned to Parliament some months later at the Glasgow Hillhead by election.

Coincidentally what is now only the second GB by election to be held this Parliament is due in the coming months at Newport West following the death of 84 of the incumbent Labour MP Paul Flynn. My guess is that Labour will seek to schedule it on the day of the local elections in early May.

A good performance there could be critical in determining the electoral potency of TIG.

A big question might be whether the Liberal Democrats will be ready to stand aside in the interests of helping the new grouping. Back in the 80s the old Liberal party and the SDP used to do that at by-elections to let the other a clear run.

These are the results from the last two general elections in Newport West.

Back at GE2010 the LDs had 17% which might be a good pointer.

Mike Smithson